Studio: Dread Central Presents
Director: Dean Ronalds
Writer: Tom Malloy, Dean Ronalds
Producer: Tom Malloy
Stars: Tom Malloy, Chris Bannow, Griffin Matthews, Abbi Snee, Emanuela Galliussi, Theodora Wooley, Tim Barnowsky, Mark Davis
Searching for the creators of a viral screamer video leads several internet entrepreneurs into a disturbing mystery.
Ambitious internet entrepreneurs Tom and Chris couldn’t be more enthusiastic about their startup’s potential. The two techies met on a previous project called DMV EZ, but have since moved on to bigger and better opportunities with Gigaler. Day to day activities include selling ad space, conducting research on consumer engagement, and routine software programming. But Gigaler’s bread and butter involves a proprietary algorithm capable of curating custom video content based on a user’s online behavior patterns. Advocacy concerns advise that Gigaler walks a dangerous line regarding possible privacy invasion. Tom contends that at the end of the day, he and Chris only want to create a predictive website so efficient that it acquires a 30% market share in the category of default homepages.
I purposefully tried to make that paragraph as dry as possible, although I don’t think stale sentences come close to capturing how dull the extended exposition of “#Screamers” truly is. “Found footage” has a long history of opening on first act fluff. “#Screamers” still steals the crown for inconsequential inclusions by overloading on a full quarter hour of boring background blather.
Oddly, it’s some of the movie’s best-made material, at least as far as convincingness is concerned. While his sparse script misses most marks for scares, suspense, and story, Tom Malloy earns an A in acting for his organic embodiment of ‘Tom.’ In another context, anyone could mistake the montage making up the first 15 minutes as an authentic corporate video, thanks to a natural rapport between Malloy and the other main players. Well-earned applause quiets quickly however, as this material doesn’t serve any useful purpose aside from providing padding.
“#Screamers” suffers from a severe real estate problem. Namely, it has 81 minutes worth of space and only ten minutes of content with which to fill it. Stretching a short film sprint into a feature-length marathon murders any chance at gaining meaningful momentum, and the movie’s windedness shows with every labored wheeze, pant, and gasp.
At that 15-minute mark, the premise at last lifts off the dirt when an anonymous source sends Gigaler a ‘screamer’ video. You know, one of those prank clips that captures someone’s attention before concluding on an unexpected jump scare. They haven’t been popular since at least 2009, yet the plot requires being on board with the notion that the mediocre one here, in which a man in a Halloween mask suddenly lunges at the lens while we watch a weird woman walk through a cemetery, is good enough to go viral.
In the real world, this flaccid footage might work its way to winning a handful of retweets or a solitary Facebook share at best. In “#Screamers,” it becomes such a wildly successful website draw that Tom tries tracking down the creator to offer a contract for exclusive content creation.
Tom and his crew instead end up in a rabbit hole where they discover that the woman in the video is actually someone who disappeared several years ago. Even weirder, the identity of the masked man as well as the grave seen in the cemetery supposedly belong to a long dead suspect many believe could have been Jack the Ripper.
“Now we’re finally getting somewhere,” I thought before the movie tugged one more rug out from under me. “#Screamers” comes out of left field with mysterious connections to unsolved 19thcentury murders and a missing woman who cagily offers cryptic clues when Tom speaks to her over the phone. Intrigue instantly ratchets right back up. I couldn’t wait to see in what wild ways these threads would tie together.
Apparently, the writers are waiting to figure it out too, because “#Screamers” does nothing but drop these bizarre breadcrumbs before abandoning them to the birds. Why is this woman subserviently enslaved to a man who has been dead for 115 years, and why are they making “gotcha!” videos for uploading online? “#Screamers” has no idea. What could have become a coolly clever twist instead ends up as one more frustrating kernel of unpopped potential.
This on the vine death is made more unfortunate by another tease of legitimate dread late in the game when Tom takes his team to ambush the video’s makers in person. This particular scene seethes with the style of “anything can happen” atmosphere that made a similar moment suspenseful in “Catfish.” Yet again, “#Screamers” puts an idea in play without a plan to fully follow through on fright factor. Act three simply devolves into an eye-rolling routine of everyone finding dumb reasons to split up without so much as a mention of motivation behind few and far between fits of madness.
Much like a ‘screamer’ video, “#Screamers” is a whole lot of buildup to a quickly deflated “boo!” of disappointment. The movie’s makers, Dean Ronalds and Tom Malloy, have dots down, but no lines they can use to connect them. As a result, “#Screamers” puts its loaf in the oven without first finishing writing the recipe. While pinches of flavor poke out of the crust, every bite becomes buried by the taste of white bread blandness.
Review Score: 30